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The Boston Globe

Metro

Brian McGrory

A miserable start to Mass. Senate race

Thank you, Tom Menino, for taking the time to wade in on Elizabeth Warren’s real or imagined Native American heritage, for letting us know that we need not be concerned about it because there are more ­important issues to confront, things like crime, education, and jobs.

It sounded so adult, so mature, that I wanted to stand up and shout, “Hear, hear! Finally, a voice of sanity in the ­asylum.’’ But there’s one small problem with Menino’s point, and that problem is this: Our normally sage mayor is wrong.

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Of course, the stubbornly mediocre economy, fair taxes, the partisan rift that is swallowing Washington whole, these are all critical issues that should be discussed and debated almost every day in this US Senate campaign.

But let’s not ever lose sight of one true thing in this or any other political race: The most important issues are the candidates themselves, and more specifically, their integrity, credibility, and authenticity.

Which is why Elizabeth Warren’s ­Cherokee ancestry, almost certainly ­declared on federal forms by Warren herself and used by a pair of Ivy League universities to tout their diversity efforts, all without an ounce of proof that she has a drop of Indian blood flowing through her veins, matters. It matters a great deal.

Speaking as adults here, the elephant in the room is whether Warren wrongly claimed minority status to improve her prospects for being hired to teach at ­Harvard Law School, and before that, the University of Pennsylvania Law School. The more obvious question might even be, why else would she have done it?

The public utterances of this uncommonly accomplished and otherwise eloquent candidate have so far ranged from lunacy to comedy, highlighted by her ­explanation about wanting to “meet others like me’’ and her recollection of an aunt describing her grandfather’s “high cheekbones.’’

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Privately, her campaign is working to come up with better answers to obvious questions about whether she really has a Cherokee background, where she ­declared it, and why, knowing she has to address it head on. This can’t happen soon enough. It’s never good when aides are furiously researching their own candidate in the throes of a competitive race, but it’s better than the alternative, which is a near-daily dose of inconvenient revelations.

The ultimate answer over whether she used her questionable heritage to gain ­undue advantage may say more about Warren than she probably wants us to know. Continued silence and roadblocks on hiring records will prove just as bad.

Warren does have something in her ­favor in this surprisingly slippery, occasionally slimy, and deeply unsatisfying Senate race, something that rivals her ­experience as the nation’s best known consumer advocate: her opponent, Scott Brown. He’s the eminently likable guy in the pickup truck who accuses “Professor ­Warren” of being an “elitist” nearly every day, with no mention of his million-dollar book advance or his degrees from the elite institutions of Tufts University and Boston College Law School.

He often takes inexplicable twists and turns on his way to declaring 11th-hour stands on issues, sometimes after the outcome has been decided by everybody else. Massachusetts is used to leaders; Brown seems to be an accomplished follower.

And he’s the one who keeps fanning the flames of Indiangate, though he could easily leave the rightful questions to an ­already skeptical news media. As it is, he looks like he’s furiously trying to change the subject from all those campaign contributions he’s gobbled up on Wall Street while opposing any tax hikes for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

All of which means that as far as integrity, authenticity, and credibility, Brown is not without issues of his own.

Maybe this is just what politics has ­become in this era of subtraction and division. If these two don’t step it up, there will be a long summer and fall ahead.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

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